The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
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Birds in flight

RP’s bird-watching tourism soars to greater heights

Manila Bulletin
October 17, 2009, 3:04pm

Aves en vuelo. Birds in flight.

The moist wetlands serve as a natural habitat
for transient wildlife. (Photo by RUDY LIWANAG)

The splendor of white winged aves would seem elusive to the naked eye, but witnessing their flight creates a symphony in the mind - of perpetuity, freedom, space and beauty.

The art of bird watching may vary among different people. Bird watching at its best is a sport, a fervent hobby to spot wild birds through sensory skill and long patience. At its worst, it is a mad rush to sanctuaries, and birds ticked off by the sound of gun shots that force them out from hiding.

But bird watching, in its simplest sense, entails more than that. It is the art of discovering how birds live, the painstaking study of each bird’s unique features, a first row ticket to nature’s timeless act.

It is neither a haughty pastime nor a hunting fixation, but it has become the fastest growing outdoor activity in the UK and North America and a lot of their most sought-after species – may it be migratory or endemic (species exclusively native to a certain place) – can be found in the Philippines.

The Bataan Peninsula lies at the East Asian-Australian Flyway where a massive number of wintering shorebirds and waterfowl embark on an annual north to south migration pattern during the months of September to March. As these birds travel, they make a stopover in Balanga, Bataan to find refuge in its thick mangrove forest, mudflats, and vast wetlands.

In the Asian Bird Census of January 2009, more than 15,000 migratory birds with 35 different species arrived in Balanga’s Sibacan and Tortugas sites including the rare Chinese Egret, Grey Heron, Whiskered Terns, sandpipers and plovers. These birds annually flock to Balanga to linger in the city’s moist wetlands that serve as a natural habitat for transient wildlife.

However, aside from providing shelter for wintering birds, the Balanga wetlands also serve as nesting grounds to endemic bird species – making it one of the biggest bird watching sites in the country.

With hopes to raise the bar of awareness about the bird life of the islands and to drum up public support for the conservation of the Balanga wetlands, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) together with the provincial government of Balanga and the Department of Tourism (DoT) opened the 5th Philippine Bird Festival, the country’s largest celebration of bird lore awareness and avifaunal diversity this month.

Bird watchers, conservationists and nature enthusiasts from London, Taiwan , Singapore , Hong Kong, and Malaysia trooped to Balanga to attend the Bird Festival last October 9 that marked the arrival of the wintering shorebirds from mainland Asia and Japan .

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano believes that Balanga presents a strong potential to become a major eco-tourism site for western tourists with bird watching at the forefront.

“Bird watching is the fastest growing hobby in the west. It has a big market of long staying tourists specifically from the UK. Balanga is not actually a traditional tourist destination but if we can preserve the wetlands and develop a world class wetland park, bird watching can propel Balanga to the mainstream tourism traffic,” Durano explained.

Durano added that the biggest bird watching festival in Asia is usually held in Taiwan which is very unfortunate, he pointed out, since the Philippines has the most number of wild birds in Asia with over 600 species, of which 200 are endemic to the country.

Balanga is the latest bird watching site in the Philippines to be promoted worldwide by DoT and Balanga’s Mayor Jose Enrique Garcia III was pleased to announce that the city government has started the construction of the Nature and Wetland Park in Tortugas to cater to the international bird watching market.

“Currently we are constructing a wetland park on a one hectare area which is a part of the Manila Bay coast line. The spot is perfect for a wetland development site because it is surrounded by fishponds and mangroves. The WBCP is helping us design the park and create more public green spaces,” Mayor Garcia said.

But the importance of bird life and avifaunal diversity doesn’t stop with tourism development alone. According to Bird Festival Committee chair Alice Villa-Real, the more species of birds found in a location, the better the state of environment.

“The population of birds in the country is directly proportional to the Filipinos’ quality of life. Their absence in the environment reflects the denudation of forests or wetlands that serve as nesting grounds to endemic species and migratory birds,” Villa-Real said.